Schubert chamber works performed by Quatuor Ebène and others

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COMPOSERS: Franz Schubert
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Franz Schubert
WORKS: String Quintet; Die Götter Griechenlands; Der Tod und das Mädchen; Der Jüngling und der Tod; Atys; Der liebliche Stern
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne (baritone), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Laurène Durantel (double-bass), Quatuor Ebène
CATALOGUE NO: Erato 2564648761

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This is an unusual disc: a full-length chamber work is followed by five Lieder, and they are accompanied not by a piano, as Schubert wrote, but by stringed instruments. We hear a baryton, an extinct relation of the viola, and in another a grim-sounding double-bass.

The Quatuor Ebène, who together with the remarkable cellist Gautier Capuçon perform the C major String Quintet, stands out, even in a golden age of string quartets such as ours. And since Capuçon integrates himself with them with none of the strain that star cellists often show, the result is as impressive as one might hope. The Quintet doesn’t permit as much variety of interpretation as, say, the C major Symphony (No. 9) does, only of degrees of intensity. There are accounts which are less than harrowing, but the greatest convey the contrasting stridency and mellifluousness of the first movement, and the anguish at the centre of the slow movement, and even more of the trio section of the third movement. The Ebène project the contrasts to the limit, but without making it sound as if Schubert was way out of his time. The pain is all the more powerful for not violating the idiom, and this is as fine a recording as I have heard since Pablo Casals and his colleagues in Prades.

Fortunately the texts of the five songs Matthias Goerne performs are provided, with translations. They need to be, two of them being relatively rare. The accompaniments are provided, oddly and not very satisfactorily, by a cello and double bass, which contribute to a weird gruffness that to some extent undermines Goerne’s fine singing. However, I recommend the disc on the strength of the Quintet.

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Michael Tanner